The Hunt For Elusive Single-Pole Magnets Just Became More Challenging

A search through a mountain of data from the Large Hadron Collider for particles called magnetic monopoles has once again come up empty handed.

That doesn’t yet completely rule out the possibility of these hypothetical objects. But it does tell us that if they exist, they might be extraordinarily massive particles that are beyond our ability to create.


Magnetic monopoles are often explained as being a particle that represents a single pole of a magnet – something nobody has ever seen so far.

If you slice a magnet in half, you still get an object with a north pole and a south pole. No matter how tiny you make the thing, you won’t get an isolated pole.

Not that this stops physicists from looking: the story of the magnetic monopole dates back to the equations of the theoretical physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

He mathematically showed that we could swap electric for magnetic fields and not see any real difference – in other words, the two were symmetrical.

That only works for their fields, though. Electrical currents have charges, which are points that exist in a vector, meaning the current flows in a direction.

If we have magnetic fields that are symmetrical with electric fields, why not magnetic points that also flow along a vector? Finding one would tell us a lot about their electrical twin as well.

So the search was on for magnetic points that were the equivalent of a charge – the magnetic monopole.

Not everybody is convinced they exist. Last year, physicists argued that the symmetry between electricity and magnetism is broken at a deep, fundamental level. Still, for many optimists, the search continues.

“A lot of people think they should exist,” says particle physicist James Pinfold from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

He and his team have just trawled through a pile of data from the Monopole and Exotics Detector at the LHC (MoEDAL). And they came up with nothing.

Their research was published recently on the pre-print website, which means we need to be cautious in not reading too deeply until it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal.

But the fact they had six times the information as previous efforts involving MoEDAL, and also took into consideration monopoles with a different kind of spin to previous analyses, shows how much ground has been covered.

In some ways this is a good thing – the research further narrows down where the monopole might be hiding. Crashing protons together at ridiculous speeds is just one way we might be able to make magnetic monopoles.

Another team of physicists from Imperial College London took a slightly different approach to searching for the elusive particles, publishing their results in the journal Physical Review Letters last December.

Part of the problem as they saw it was if monopoles were being produced inside particle colliders, there was every chance they’d be strongly stuck together.

What was needed was another way to narrow down the kinds of properties they might have, and then compare those with MoEDAL’s results.

To do this they considered how magnetic monopoles might appear inside intense, hot magnetic fields, just like those surrounding a type of neutron star called a magnetar.

If their mass was small enough, their magnetic charge would affect the star’s magnetic field.

Of course, even the strength of the monopole’s charge is hypothetical at the moment, but based on a few reasonable assumptions they calculated we could expect the particle’s mass to be more than about the third of that of a proton.

That’s not exactly tiny. And if the actual charge is heavier than the smallest one imaginable, that mass goes up.

Either way we look at it, physicists are needing to consider two possibilities; either the magnetic monopole is a myth, and the fractured symmetry between electricity and magnetism is a fundamental part of nature; or this thing is big.

It’s possible we just might need bigger colliders. It’s also possible magnetic monopoles are so heavy, only something as monumental as a Big Bang could produce them, leaving us to hunt for relics.

Only one thing is for certain – the hunt continues

New Research Challenges What We Thought We Knew About the Big Bang


Physicists have discovered that gravity and quantum effects disrupt the symmetry of the electromagnetic field, making symmetry impossible in our universe. If true, the work will add insight to the study of the origins of the universe.


New research from physicists at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Universidad de Valencia, Spain, may offer the answer to questions left open by classical theories of electromagnetism. If this new research solves part of this mystery, it may also provide a window into the origins of the universe.

Waves of all kinds, including light, are made of magnetic and electric fields. For around 150 years, scientists have accepted the idea that magnetism and electricity are really just two sides of the same coin. When Michael Faraday spun magnets, generating electricity — and used electrical currents to make magnets spin — the connection seemed obvious. James Clerk Maxwell took the experiments of Faraday and turned them into the classical theory of electromagnetism, which provided a unified framework for studying optics, magnetism, and electricity.

Via Pixabay

The mystery of electromagnetism lies in the absence of magnetic charges. Maxwell’s theory, referred to as the electric-magnetic duality, rests on a concept of symmetry and assumes that magnets having charges. However, no isolated magnetic charges have ever been observed in nature, and while something that behaves in a similar way has been simulated in laboratories, this is scarcely the same as actual empirical evidence. If magnetic charges don’t exist, then Maxwell’s theory of symmetry is impossible.

Now, LSU’s Ivan Agullo and his team of researchers think they know why these isolated magnetic charges, also called magnetic monopoles, have never been found: gravity and quantum effects disrupt the symmetry of the electromagnetic field.

 “Gravity spoils the symmetry regardless of whether magnetic monopoles exist or not,” Agullo said in a press release from LSU. “This is shocking. The bottom line is that the symmetry cannot exist in our universe at the fundamental level because gravity is everywhere.”


This new research challenges many basic scientific premises that may affect other research, including the study of the origins of the universe. Satellites collect data from the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the radiation emitted from the Big Bang and which holds valuable clues about the history of the universe.

The Evolution of Human Understanding of the Universe [INFOGRAPHIC]

“By measuring the CMB, we get precise information on how the Big Bang happened,” Agullo said in the press release.

Until now, scientists analyzing CMB data have assumed that the gravitational field in the universe does not affect the polarization of photons in the CMB. However, this is only true if electromagnetic symmetry exists. If it doesn’t, cosmic evolution may be changing the polarization of the CMB constantly.

Should this research be accurate, scientists will need to analyze CMB data in new ways. The team’s focus for future work will be the identification of just how much the polarization may be changing, and how scientists can adjust their analyses to cope with this new asymmetrical reality.